On the Bounce

TSD's Ben Love brings you all the latest on LSU basketball as the Tigers gear up for the SEC Tournament. Come inside for an update on the team's postseason picture, Charles Carmouche's injury status and what's gone wrong with LSU's interior defense lately.

Coming down the final stretch of the regular season, the Tigers split their two games for the third consecutive week, winning at Texas A&M (68-57) Wednesday night before bowing out to Ole Miss (81-67) on Senior Day Saturday in the PMAC.

LSU now stands at 18-11 overall, 9-9 in the SEC.

The Tigers next play in the SEC Tournament in Nashville on Thursday, taking on Georgia in the 8-9 game. The winner earns a date with No. 1 seed Florida on Friday.

Below I provide three quick hitters on the Tigers, highlighting the latest and most important team news and trends on the court.

Keep an eye out for this weekly feature on Sunday nights through the end of the 2012-13 season.

1. To erase all postseason uncertainty, LSU must win Thursday.

Winning against a top-flight SEC team like Ole Miss would've locked up an NIT berth, not only for the quality of victory but because 10-8 in the conference looks a lot more formidable on paper than does 9-9. But that didn't happen. And now, in one man's view, the Tigers have to notch one more win to feel comfortable about getting into the nation's second-tier postseason tournament.

Part of it is just the competition in-conference which now surrounds LSU. Assuming for the moment that three SEC teams make it to the Big Dance (we'll go with Florida, Missouri and Tennessee), that leaves Kentucky, Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas and possibly Georgia that the Tigers are vying with for spots – and a loss to Georgia in LSU's first SEC tourney game would make it a sweep for the Bulldogs over the Bayou Bengals this season.

A win Thursday, on the other hand, eliminates Georgia as competition, gives LSU its 19th win and sets the Tigers up as the clear-cut fifth SEC team in line for the NIT (fourth in the event one of the SEC bubble teams, like Ole Miss or Alabama, makes a run this week, something I think is very likely). So, considering the NIT definitely won't take more than five from the conference and may only take four, LSU can't afford a loss Thursday. If it happens, it'll take a lot of work from several teams to carve out a spot for the Tigers.

However, should the Tigers win Thursday (and not get beat by 40 against Florida), I feel they're all but certain to get that NIT bid.

Publisher's Note: Scroll to the bottom of this story for the official 2013 SEC Tournament bracket. The format has changed with the addition of two more teams to the conference.

2. Carmouche's performance at A&M was among best of season for LSU.

The rest of the SEC knows just how good Texas A&M's Elston Turner is. LSU fans, though, probably don't have the same kind of appreciation, and Charles Carmouche is the reason why.

Turner came into his own Senior Night on Wednesday the league's second-leading scorer at 18.0 points per game. He left it bruised, both physically and (one would have to think) emotionally, after scoring a meager 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Carmouche hounded and absolutely blanketed the Aggies' sharp-shooter all night. It was a repeat performance from the two team's meeting in Baton Rouge on Jan. 23, when Turner netted only five points on 1-of-7 shooting.

For those keeping score, that's a combined 16 points on 5-of-21 shooting (23.8%) for Turner in two games versus LSU this season. This is the same guy who scored 40 at Kentucky, 38 against Tennessee and 37 versus Ole Miss in the past few months. And Carmouche made him invisible. For good measure Carmouche also poured in 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting (60.0%), five rebounds and five assists against only one turnover in College Station.

It was without a doubt one of the best all-around games an LSU hoopster has put on display this season.

3. The Tigers' interior defense has been extremely poor lately.

Funny, but not surprising, how that can happen when the South Carolinas and Mississippi States of the world fall off the schedule. LSU has struggled mightily to keep more capable post players in check the past six games, with it never more evident than in the Ole Miss regular-season finale Saturday.

The front line of Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner owned the Tigers all day long, with Holloway really turning the tide of the entire ballgame midway through the first half. Ole Miss' starting power forward, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds (four offensive), ran roughshod over and through Johnny O'Bryant. So much so that LSU coach Johnny Jones admitted after the game to taking O'Bryant out due to lack of defensive production and went on to say O'Bryant's teammates had to dig into him a little at halftime. (Now, in fairness, O'Bryant did miss the team's two practices prior to the game with a presumed sickness.)

But that was merely just the latest – and probably greatest – example of a trend heading in the wrong direction for LSU. A&M forward Ray Turner put up 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds (six offensive) on the Tigers Wednesday. The week prior Mizzou's power forward Laurence Bowers had 23 and 10 (four offensive rebounds) and center Alex Oriakhi chipped in 18 and 10 (five offensive).

What's interesting is that three or four weeks ago the concern was perimeter players letting up career highs to opposing guards. Carmouche rectified that situation quickly. Well, I guess you could say it's O'Bryant's turn now to dial up the defensive intensity inside. If he doesn't do it, I'm not sure who else will for the Tigers. Andrew Del Piero can be effective against less mobile bigs in spurts, but the list ends after that because Jalen Courtney's knees just aren't there (plus he lacks size) and Shavon Coleman continues to be completely ineffective against bulkier teams.

So, like I said, the ball's in JOB's court on this one.

Four-point play: Well, Anthony Hickey's run at the top of the NCAA in terms of steals per game has come to a halt. Oakland's Duke Mondy now leads the country with 3.13 rips per ballgame. Hickey is at 3.07 … On the injury front, Carmouche said after the game that he injured his "upper butt" when he took a nasty fall less than 90 seconds into the game Saturday versus Ole Miss. That, coupled with his knee tendinitis, make the senior one banged up Tiger entering the SEC Tournament … One of the few downsides to Carmouche's brilliance of late has been the lack of touches, shots and offense running through Malik Morgan. The freshman has been less involved the past five games, averaging 4.6 points and 1.8 rebounds in 15.6 minutes per game. Those are all below Morgan's season averages … Finally, it seems Hickey has returned to his fastbreak-or-threes approach. In fact the numbers say it's gotten even worse. This past week LSU's point guard attempted 17 shots (making only four), 13 of which came from beyond the arc. Hickey managed just 13 total points in the two games. The unfortunate truth: When the game's not sped up, he's a surprisingly average player.

UP NEXT

Ninth-seeded LSU begins play in the 2013 SEC Tournament in Nashville Thursday against eighth-seeded Georgia (15-16, 9-9) at noon Central Time. The SEC Network will have the television broadcast. Should the Tigers win, they would play top-seeded Florida (24-6, 14-4) on Friday at noon Central Time. ESPNU will have the telecast of that game. See the link below for the official tournament bracket.

2013 SEC Tournament Bracket


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